We need to support our Young People and Local Businesses Coming out of Lockdown

East Herts Green Party is fielding candidates in both County and Town elections on Thursday with a goal of being able to support local young people and businesses rebuild their lives and livelihoods as we emerge from lockdown.

Supporting the Young Post-COVID

A significant number of our prospective councillors are current (or former) teachers, school governors and parents who have seen first hand the impact the pandemic has had on the young people in our district, taking a toll on their mental health, job prospects and social lives.

We are worried about a rise in mental health issues during the pandemic and would argue for more specialist counselling services in our schools and greater funding for CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

David Woollcombe (standing for Herts County Council, representing Buntingford) founded the Peace Child charity 40 years ago, bringing programmes that “empower young people” to schools and youth groups. Drawing on his wealth of experience, he is keen to fight for youth service budgets, decimated by Tory cuts, to do more to create opportunities for young people.  

In terms of rebuilding our economy with the young in mind, we would encourage more training courses, apprenticeships and paid work experience programmes, alongside providing support for young people to start small businesses (especially those which aim to drive change towards sustainability and promoting green technology).

Lockdown has undoubtedly hit social interaction and recreation hard, particularly for youngsters. Vicky Smith (a teacher standing for Hertford Town Council, representing Bengeo) is keen to argue for better community facilities, prioritising events and activities of interest to young people.

Ben Crystall (currently on East Herts District Council and standing for Hertford All Saints as a County Councillor) has supported the renovation of Hertford Theatre, with its ability to show brand new blockbusters locally - a great prospect for teenagers who would usually have to travel to Stevenage to see films. A wider range of theatre events will also interest some. Meanwhile a renovated leisure centre will bring a much larger gym and studio with new facilities that will appeal to many young people. Presently there are few facilities in Kingsmead for the young, and as a first step Ben would support new play parks (like that in Hartham) that could appeal to a wide range of ages.

As a group, we are keen to push for more events in our towns, which could attract young people - for example cycling races and sports events (such as assault-course challenges) which have proved popular in the past.

Restoring our Towns and Businesses Post-COVID

The key to rebuilding the livelihoods of the many business owners and their employees around East Hertfordshire is to increase footfall in our towns. We need to encourage people to visit and spend money in local stores, coffee shops and restaurants on our High Streets, not in big box stores or lining the pockets of Jeff Bezos and Amazon shareholders. Councils need to do everything they can to promote small local businesses.

East Herts Green Party believes that it is important to ensure that people can visit our town centres easily and safely. We need to reduce the dominance of traffic, and make town centres safe and pleasant places for people to mingle, meet up and enjoy themselves. We want provision of green spaces and traffic calming / management to be at the heart of any improvements so that our towns are enjoyable places to be. Pedestrianisation could also help make the centre more attractive to shoppers and visitors. This must be done carefully, and thoughtfully, but there could certainly be regular car-free days with events and activities held on the roads around the town. Ware High Street is at its best on Dickensian Night when the road is closed to traffic. 

Many of the ideas developed by specialists and advisors already transforming the fortunes of other High Streets are about making town centres unique, by bringing in interesting boutique shopping experiences and art installations (e.g. the Ware Bear, or the yarn bombers) that attract people to try new things and see new sights. Changing the experiences regularly, and using events to publicise what our towns have to offer can help.

We support celebrating key anniversaries and events, having large screen events around key sports fixtures like the Olympics in public spaces and working with brewers and pubs to have more concerts and festivals - after all Hertfordshire was built on the malting and brewing industry! David Woollcombe is on the organising committee of the Buntingford Summer Arts Festival scheduled for summer 2022. Our candidates have plenty of community ideas for Bishops Stortford, Hertford and Ware, focussing on live music, local history, gardening, walking in green spaces and wildlife protection.

Making market day a more regular feature is another route to increase footfall, by adding specialist markets and local produce events to attract residents and visitors. Using night markets and evening events is another way to do this, which can work all year round. Both Martin Butcher (standing for Ware South at County level) and Thomas Day (a local businessman standing for Ware Town Council in Ware Trinity) want to see regular farmers or food markets, for instance in Tudor Square, in Ware.

However, we must also ensure that we make full use of what we have in our towns already. Hertford, for example, has a fabulous river frontage but it has been locked away from view in key areas. A town-wide river-side walk would change that, especially if it links Hertford East and the park, to shopping at Bircherley Green and entertainment at Hertford Theatre. At planning meetings Ben Crystall (Hertford All Saints candidate) argued consistently for the new Bircherley Green development to make full use of the riverside area, but developers have been allowed to include a roadway along the river frontage which may limit activities there. He will continue to argue for better use of our river front and for a town-wide river walk. 

On a more basic level, East Herts Council must continue to look at business tax relief for shops, and at opportunities for allowing temporary pop-up stores, art galleries or charities to make use of empty premises, all of which can be a draw for visitors and their wallets.

We hope that our future Green councillors will be well placed to support the restoration of vibrancy and enjoyment to our local town centres, bringing economic and recreational opportunities to young and old alike, and success to local businesses.